Rabbiting On About Perspective

Rabbiting on about perspective, influence, and bias

By Doron
November 2020

A random tweet from 2019 found its way onto my timeline again this week and got me thinking about perspective, influence and bias.

Pretty remarkable how deliberate framing of a simple, viral video - already shared widely elsewhere - can create a particular impression. On the off-chance that you have not seen this video previously, I will begin by inviting you to play this iteration of it (it's only 13 seconds long).

Avoid looking at the image embedded further down in this post, if you can.

As you watch the video, note to yourself what it is that you are seeing in the first couple of seconds of the video.

Click to watch

What do you see?

Hold that thought!

When this video first emerged online in 2019 it was hailed as an exciting optical illusion that left people scratching their heads with bafflement.

It may not have been as popular a viral sensation as 2015's The Dress but it was dumfounding enough to start numerous online debates.

So.

Did you see a hand stroking a white-necked raven?

Or did you see a hand stroking a black rabbit?

I was obviously mistaken but, at first, I saw a rabbit.

And, you know what? I think I have a pretty passable excuse for that. The thing is, I didn't watch the video in isolation. Rather, it appeared on my Twitter timeline within a quote-retweet of another tweet, which itself introduced the video with what I now consider to be deliberately misleading framing.

Below is what appeared on my timeline and it is worth pointing out that I first read Greg Jenner's tweet, then Dan Quintana's original post, before watching the actual footage.

This meant that, by the time I started focusing on the content of the video, my eyes had already been deliberately directed to expect that I may be seeing a raven and that this would, in fact, be incorrect because the - ostensibly - real subject matter of the video was (or, so they would have one think!) a rabbit.

My excuse for my error, therefore, is that bias warped my perception, having regard to what I was subtly (or not at all subtly, with hindsight) directed to think. In the brief moment during which I skimmed through the tweets and watched the video, I was certainly looking for a rabbit and, because I was looking for a rabbit, that was precisely the first thing I saw.

In turn, this meant that it took me a good few moments to readjust my perception and "find" the raven.

And a raven indeed it is.

Jenner's tweet was retweeted again the other day by someone I follow, serving as a reminder of how the sort of influence perpetrated by both Quintana and Jenner (humorously, no doubt) forms an integral part of how we process the information we consume daily. The impact of that influence on our decision-making is not insignificant.

With the amount of misinformation making its way onto our timelines, exacerbated by events such as far-reaching referendums and elections over the past few years, it's worthwhile pausing and reflecting on what is driving our perceptions.

Our busy lives mean that there are not many opportunities to "reverse-engineer" our thought processes. Time-permitting, however, it's important to do so, in order to ensure that the decisions and choices we make are based on fact, rather than stories we tell ourselves or told to us by others.